Mike Clevinger seems like a pretty chill guy. If the Indians top four pitchers were the Ninja Turtles, he’d probably be Michelangelo, Bauer Donatello (with a dose of Raphael?), Kluber is Leonardo even though people actually like Kluber, and I guess Carrasco is… Raphael? That doesn’t mesh as well. Maybe he’s Casey Jones. But that’s an analysis for another day.
Clevinger is the most laid back, relaxed and fun guy on the staff, kind of gives off that festival kid vibe. I think there’s a dark side though. I think Clevinger holds grudges. Specifically against the Chicago White Sox. And he’s taking it out on them this year, beating them like a rented mule.
It seems so out of character for him to have hate in his heart. But the box scores tell an interesting story. It’s surprising to think a guy who’s only 59 games into his major league career could have some kind of deep loathing in him, especially a guy nicknamed Sunshine. But this year he’s utterly obliterated the White Sox. In three starts he holds a 1.27 ERA, he’s struck out 33.7 percent of batters, allowed only 19 of the 83 batters he’s faced reach base, just totally crushed them. Admittedly they are not a good team. But this is crazy.
I can only think it all stems from his second start as a major leaguer. In his debut Clevinger was solid if unimpressive, basically what you look for in a first start. He faced the Reds on May 18th, 2016 and for five innings was excellent. The only blemish was a homer to Jay Bruce, other than that he was in control. Like so many debuts itfell apart as he made his way into the third time through the order. A Zack Cozart single, Billy Hamilton bunt and a Joey Votto double drove in Clevingers second and third career earned runs, then after striking out Brandon Phillips he was pulled. He ended up allowing four earned runs after Zack McAllister gave up a homer moments later, his line looking less pretty than it had been for the first five. But it was something to grow from. Surelyt he young hurler was feeling himself.
The White Sox were much less kind. That was a team with some meat still on the bone talent-wise, and they knocked Clevinger around. A first inning homer, a third inning RBI single and another three-run home run to Brett Lawrie of all people chased Clevinger after five innings of six earned run, four K and three walk ball. It definitely dimmed the light that shone so bright just days earlier. Clevinger is lucky he’s talented and had an organization believing in him, because that’s the type of outing that can help start the argument that you’re a bullpen arm and nothing more.
Since then he’s made it a focus to seemingly embarrass the White Sox. He faced them for eight more total innings the rest of that year, and though he benefitted from only seeing each batter twice, he cutthem down. He allowed three more hits and two earned runs to the Sox in 2016. Perhaps some thought that was just a pitcher developing. Or that luck was on his side. Other than a single inning and change in 2017 Chicago avoided him that year. But like elephants and middle schoolers, Mike Clevinger doesn’t forget a grudge.
Perhaps, and indeed probably, it’s just small sample size and a good pitcher taking advantage of a bad team. But every time he sees them this year Clevinger seems to have something extra. Earlier this month in Chicago he was hitting 97 on the gun, rarified air for him. He didn’t quite get there on Tuesday (probably because the Guaranteed Rate speed gun is no guarantee for accuracy), though he touched 96. And by GameScore it was his second best outing of the season, topped only by the shutout in Baltimore in May. His fourth best was his start against thtem in Cleveland in late May. His fifth was in Chicago last week. Second, if you were curious, was that mowing down of the Yankees that the bullpen ruined.
It would be fun if each starter picked a division rival to focus all their hate and anger on, growing their power and destroying that team each time they faced it, Sith-style. I wonder why more pitching coaches don’t use that kind of motivation, telling their charges that this team or that one said something mean about their mother. You know, classic inspiration techniques. Clevinger just needs to wear the chip he’s evidently had placed on his shoulder forever. The White Sox will be good eventually. Wouldn’t it be fun if even when they’re at their peak and the Indians fallen back down a hole, one guy still mows them down? It would be a sad future in general, but dreaming for at least a little bit of sunshine amidst that is nothing to scoff at.